Because there was so much conflict between his parents it was decided that Ritchie would be better off at boarding school. Although he lived in Sydney, when he was in Year 4, Ritchie was sent to a private boarding school a few hours’ drive away.
He was happy there for the most part. He enjoyed the country atmosphere and liked the horse riding and tree climbing that went on. He made some good friends there, who he has kept throughout his life.
In Ritchie’s first year there, Jim White, the housemaster, would watch the boys take showers and instruct them where to scrub. Then when the boys were in bed, he’d do the rounds of the dorm with a torch and tuck them in, sometimes kissing them on the forehead.
White would emotionally manipulate the boys. If Ritchie was in trouble, White might hit him twice then say ‘you deserved four but I only gave you two’. Ritchie then felt like he’d been let off lightly.
In Year 5, Ritchie and a few other boys weren’t allowed to progress to the next house, one which gave the boys more privileges. It was a real blow to Ritchie, who felt like he was being punished for some reason. This was the year that Jim White’s evening stroll around the boys’ beds became more insistent.
‘He’d … do up a button first, he’d probably start doing that, and then a night later or a week later he’d … undo it, then do it back up.’ Then White started fondling Ritchie through his pants. Ritchie grew more and more petrified. He began faking sickness so he could spend the night in the hospital, where the nurses were. If White went on a real ‘rampage’, Ritchie would lick things that he thought had germs on them in an attempt to get genuinely ill.
While Ritchie was being molested he’d think ‘Oh shit, I’m getting an erection. Is this normal? Am I gay? Is this right?’
He could hear White going around the different beds, and boys crying as he abused them. White knew the people not to go near and he avoided the light sleepers. ‘He had it all down pat.’
‘Sometimes if you saw him coming around, you’d pee your bed … on purpose. You’d think, he’s not going to touch me if there’s all wee there. Or try and crap the bed ...’
One night White was particularly aggressive. ‘This time he really held me down and was kissing me on the mouth. And he had this smell of alcohol.’ He performed oral sex on Ritchie, who kept saying, ‘Get off me, get off me, get off me, get off me!’ White shushed him. Ritchie grabbed a slipper. ‘And I reached down and just went bang! And smacked him on the side of the head. And I broke his glasses.’
White said, ‘You’re in trouble. You’re in trouble.’ And then he returned to his bedroom on the other side of the dorm wall.
That night a group of the boys decided to go to the headmaster. But in the end it was just Ritchie who confronted him about White a few days later.
The headmaster said ‘Shh! Don’t lie … Sonny, if you lie again I’m going to bend you over and give you six.’
Which he promptly did.
Jim White continued to trawl the dormitory but never touched Ritchie again. And the headmaster’s manner changed from friendly to very hostile.
The next year a schoolmate of Ritchie’s complained about White. The headmaster asked the boy to confirm that White had abused him, because they were very serious allegations. The boy’s parents were there as well. The boy gave a categorical yes.
But Jim White stayed on for the rest of that year, even getting a note of thanks in the school magazine.
The abuse was followed by years of underachieving for Ritchie. He went to a new school where he was disruptive and in trouble regularly. He lost all self-confidence, did badly academically, started drinking heavily and was confused about his sexuality. Any relationships he had were short-lived and not monogamous – he didn’t want to dig too deep or be asked questions he didn’t want to answer.
He eventually told his mother about the abuse. She’d been watching his lacklustre progress with concern and asked him what was wrong. ‘She was cut up, as a mother, that she’d put me into boarding school … and put me in that situation.’ She asked if he wanted to report it to the school but Ritchie said no, he wasn’t a snitch.
Ritchie was eventually diagnosed with ADHD, a diagnosis he agreed with.
Life has improved for Ritchie. He’s married and has a good job. He still sees some of his school friends and they go over their experiences. ‘I reckon I spent three or four months staying awake all night, as a 10-year-old. Petrified … Eyes wide open.’
Ritchie hasn’t had counselling. He gets angry, but leaves it at that.
When his wife asked Ritchie if he wanted to report the abuse he said it’s too late, it’s ancient history but as he’s reminded of it now and again, he thinks ‘That guy shouldn’t have gotten away with that’.
Ritchie has heard about another teacher at the school who was abusing boys. He can’t believe that such a close-knit school didn’t know this was happening, especially when Ritchie was sometimes so distressed he’d lock himself in the toilet for half a day, screaming and cowering.
‘It was wholesale … sodomy and abuse,’ Ritchie said. ‘What he’s done is completely wrong. It’s been suppressed for 30 years. If he can pay, he should.’